April 21, 2010 • Abby Heugel
The Pen-Ultimate Finish
Move over shoes and handbags, it’s writing accessories that make an outfit
Perhaps you’ve never thought of a pen as a fashion accessory, but maybe it’s time to change that thinking. While it’s generally agreed that accessories add color, style and class to an outfit, helping create a certain look, they also may have practical functions.
At a basic level, a pen is one of the most practical and utilitarian inventions ever created. As National Stationery Show Manager Patti Stracher explained, the stationery industry is a highly personalized industry. People communicate in a personal way — whether they’re writing a thank you note, a letter or a card — and they need the instrument to provide the ink source.
“A pen is a very personal accessory and can reflect on one’s personality and taste,” agreed Shu-Jen of Taccia Pens. “We’re often looking for the perfect accessory to complement an outfit, like the right sunglasses, watch or bag. Carrying a fine pen nowadays is so overlooked, and it’s the perfect accessory to make an impact. ”
Whether it sits on your desk or in briefcase, it makes a statement. Just as many want to have a stylish and fashionable Palm Pilot or cell phone, that thought is shifting back to writing instruments. People have realized that it’s not just ink on paper; this social and cultural shift favors pens once again becoming a personal fashion accessory.
“It’s part of an overall look and a lifestyle,” said Tara Keckeisen of YAFA Pen Company. “When you go into a meeting, a great suit, a great portfolio and a great pen just fit together.”
There was a time when the pen was seen as a highly desirable fashion accessory, with precious metals and gems sometimes used in their construction.
“People purchased pens that reflected their personality, taste and socio-economic status,” Stracher said. “When corporate casual attire arrived, it impacted the luxury writing sector, as people weren’t wearing formal attire every day. At the same time, executive women were entering the field and they realized how the accessories they used were a reflection of their personal style and values statement.”
A pen represents not just practicality, but also personal style. “The right pen can add a bit of color and flair to the monochrome business suit and fit in perfectly,” Shu-Jen said. “I just cringe thinking of all the times I’ve met people who carry a 10-cent disposable pen to go with a nice Italian suit or a stunning designer dress and bag. A nice pen costs about the same amount as a nice tie or belt and it serves just as important of a purpose.”
A Great Complement
It’s not so much about luxury as it is perceived luxury, as “luxury” means different things to different people. If your store is carrying elegant papers or high-quality product, you need to be offering pen products with perceived luxury at all price points. With the wide range of price points out there, there is something to fit within the context of your store.
“Our largest retail segment would probably be gift, stationery and pen retailers,” Shu-Jen said. “We’ve also seen good volume in various other retail segments, such as luggage, watch, jewelry, clothing and tailor shops. Several art supply stores are also some of our largest accounts.”
Fine pens don’t just pair with paper, but complement many other products and can drive traffic to a store. Shoppers regularly purchase refills and different inks and are more likely to purchase quality stationery, notepads, cards and desk accessories. They’re also more likely to pair a fine pen with a good watch and nice suit.
“The pen sector is trying to find its way comfortably within gift departments of bigger accessory stores, fashion boutiques, etc.,” said Stracher. “The pen industry needs to help solve the display piece of the puzzle. While the stationery departments of large stores have customized retrofitted spaces branded to the company or certain materials, the smaller retailers need to find the space to offer proper display of pens.”
The key is to show the item in play — like on a desktop with stationery, picture frames and leather organizers. Show the story by creating an executive desk or domestic command central. Little accents like a half-written note, a small book or inkwells help complete a display. Stracher notes that at the NSS, the Pen Pavilion has at least 30 companies that offer different design directions.
“The show presents a range of different pens, not just collectables and inaccessible writing implements,” said Stracher. “It helps move pens more into gift sector with new opportunities.”
The great thing is that people no longer have to choose utilitarian over beauty and the selection is constantly evolving. “Our approach uses so many designers, each of whom has a different style, that anyone can find a pen to fit their personality, taste and personal style,” said Adrian Bailey of ACME Studios.
“We’ve been noticing a slow change towards brighter and more striking colors in pens,” said Shu-Jen. “Nowadays, most brands have their own share of creative color combinations, with orange striped pens, bright pink pens and more.”
There has also been a new twist on the shape of a pen. While the traditional cylindrical pen shape will always be significant, ergonomic shapes and multi-faceted designs are becoming a welcome addition. YAFA Pen Company founder and owner Jerry Greenberg takes this concept to a new level with the DIVA pen, a technologically innovative purse pen that mimics a lipstick container.
“The pen telescopes like lipstick so when the cap is posted, DIVA becomes a full size pen,”said Keckeisen. “The beauty is that it’s compact and easy to carry, doesn’t leak and doesn’t take up much space — the perfect accessory.”
As for materials, vibrant resin and exotic materials are again being used. The artistry has become more elaborate, with decorative elements such as hand-painted scenes, popular fashion chic and fine art images.
“Italian resin is our material of choice, with its excellent durability, superb colors and depth and infinite customization,” said Shu-Jen.
So, it’s clear that pens can and should be viewed as a fashion accessory and can serve as a personal style statement as much as anything else you might put on. However, they also make a wonderful gift, and a great addition to any gift section for exactly that reason.
“When you pick a gift for somebody, the giver and the recipient are both involved; it’s a conscious choice,” Stracher said. “You not only ask if the recipient will like it; it’s a reflection on the giver as much as the recipient.”
To put it simply, a pen is a writing instrument, but it’s also a great accessory addition to your store. Stracher recommends that retailers open their eyes to category and carry new and different product.
“A similar example would be how Martha Stewart took her designer line to K-mart stores to make it accessible for everyone,” Stracher said. “The same can be done with quality pens.”